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Figure 8. During flight...Click to Enlarge Image

At first glance, running, swimming and flying appear to have a number of differences, and these have long been explored by biophysicists. Now a different approach borrowed from engineering offers a view of the shared physical properties of these types of animal locomotion. Taking a cue from the thermodynamic principles used to engineer efficient vehicles, the authors find that despite the mechanical differences between them, these movements all come down to gravity, density and mass. Animal locomotion, like any other flow of material, is optimized by evolution to travel the greatest distance while expending the least amount of energy. The authors have developed an analytical formula that they say can predict many functional characteristics of animal shape and locomotion, such as speed or force of stride, based on mass. Their theories could have implications for understanding the patterns of animal evolution.

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